State Funding for Libraries – It’s Overdue

So today I went to a meeting of the Vermont Library Association’s Advocacy Committee. The Advocacy Committee works closely with the Government Relations Committee of VLA to get stuff done on a legislative level. They act and we promote. We work in tandem.

Big news this year is that the VLA is working with the Dept. of Libraries to try to get a small amount of guaranteed state funding for Vermont’s public libraries. Currently funding is 100% local, with the exception of grant programs like LSTA, Gates Foundation and Freeman Foundation money. For most Vermont towns this means getting the budget approved in town meeting every year. Some towns have the library as part of the town government funding and some have a separate line item. Some of the towns I work with have big fights about library funding every year. Some libraries get small increases every year when they need them. In any case, Vermont is one of only six states that has no state level funding for libraries and we are asking the Governor for $1.6 million [pdf] which will give public libraries in the state the equivalent of 10% of their operating costs, or a minimum of $1500.

A concern among some of the libraries is that towns might see the state money as supplanting money the town would have to pay and libraries would actually see no net increase in funding. And, of course, in a state where people are used to being so independent, there are always concerns when money comes from the government (CIPA anyone?).

In any case I’m new to this lobbying and legislating stuff, though I am pretty good at stringing sentences together. If anyone has advice, feel free to leave it in the comments.

WebJunction “redesign” status update

WebJunction is in the middle of a design refresh project, which I guess is somehow different from a plain old redesign. For a site that is becoming a state portal for a great deal of library content nationwide, it’s distressing that only 27% of their survey respondents found the site very easy to use. It also concerns me that for a site that has been around for so long with such esteemed and established partners, they seem to still not be section 508 compliant and accessible, or at least that’s how I interpret “We are in the midst of defining some 508 remediation work“.

The only search box on their home page goes to Worldcat which seems odd considering that many of the WJ members are not Worldcat members. The entire state of Vermont for example doesn’t have many Worldcat member public libraries, but when you go look at the Vermont portal… oh hey they don’t have a Worldcat search box at all! I can’t find a discussion forum on the Vermont portal that’s had any activity since August. What I’d love to be able to do, personally, is figure out which content on the Vermont portal is specific to Vermont and what is just general information that is supposedly of interest to Vermonters. This is unlikely to happen, I think, because then it might be more clear just how little Vermont-specific content is on this portal, a portal that I’m fairly certain the Department of Libraries paid for, and may continue to pay for. The “new” Focus on VT Library Programming section mentioned on the main page is over a year old, so maybe we haven’t renewed the lease.

It is an improvement over my state Department of Libraries home page (yes that’s a 2002 copyright statement, WJs is 2004)? Absolutely. Are big projects like this difficult to do, especially when you need to cater to a group of people with a very wide range of technical abilities? Almost certainly. However I think some problems can’t just be solved by one more web page, even if it does “Improve traffic by enhanced synergy”. WebJunction does a lot of good things for a lot of people, but if you don’t already “get” the web, or if you’re not very tech savvy, WebJunction is harder to use than the average website. This passes on the “computers are hard” myth. This keeps people from getting help, because more and more people help by saying “Hey it’s on WebJunction!” Well, what if WebJunction doesn’t help? The libraries I work with are more likely to have wireless, Flickr accounts or blogs than WebJunction logins. Why? Because those things are easy, and tiny libraries find them to be worth it.

National Library Week in my neighborhood

For National Library Week (or coincidentally) my local library, Bethel Library, got a computer, broadband access, and wireless. I know this because I read about it in the newspaper. This is a nearly linkless post because both the library and the newspaper aren’t quite online yet. I haven’t been there to check it out yet because the library is only open fifteen hours a week. I’m looking forward to it.

what are your state’s filtering laws?

I spoke to a librarian at a rural library today. She works ten hours a week — well she’s paid for ten and works many more. The library has one computer, and that computer has dial-up access. Her board is considering getting her a second computer, so that she can do her work while the library is open and patrons are using the other one. She has also been talking to them about possibly getting broadband access. She and I discussed creating a web page for the library, maybe thinking about wireless in the longer-term future. Money is tight, as you can imagine. When I mentioned thinking about E-rate assistance for connectivity, she wasn’t enthusiastic. I’m not sure if this is because of CIPA or other reasons, but we’re looking into alternatives.

Vermont is not one of the states that has its own filtering laws in addition to the laws laid down by CIPA. What I did not know was that twenty-one states have filtering laws that apply to schools and/or libraries. Some of these just require libraries to have an Internet use policy concerning public/patron use of the Internet, but many go much farther than that. The Utah code, for example:

Prohibits a public library from receiving state funds unless the library implements and enforces measures to filter Internet access to certain types of images; allows a public library to block materials that are not specified in this bill; and allows a public library to disable a filter under certain circumstances. Requires local school boards to adopt and enforce a policy to restrict access to Internet or online sites that contain obscene material.

The National Council on State Legislatures has a page outlining all these state laws with links to the actual state legislation: Children and the Internet: Laws Relating to Filtering, Blocking and Usage Policies in Schools and Libraries

local vermont library trivia

Apparently the board of libraries is responsible for authorizing and keeping track of name changes to state-owned property. This is why the state librarian is commenting on the dispute on a pond name change. It’s an old story but one that I came across in my Googling for town websites to help flesh out Wikipedia’s Vermont town pages.